The newly restructured Arista Records is being ushered in with a bang. The very same week RCA Music Group officially announced that it would be absorbing Arista in yet another music biz consolidation, Usher’s new album Confessions is shaping up to be a monster hit. It’s been three years (and several high-profile label mergers) since the former teen idol’s 8701, but not much has changed in Usher’s world. He’s still flaunting his abs and playing loverboy to all the ladies, crooning atop slick, pulsating beats courtesy of super-producers like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis as well as a host of new collaborators. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Maybe he learned that lesson from mentor Miss Janet and her production pals. This time, though, things are rated MA; after all, Usher is in his mid-20s now, just the right age for taking a chance on a one-night stand (the bareback anthem “That’s What It’s Made For”) and getting his “chick on the side” knocked up (“Confessions Part II”). There’s plenty for those who like Sensitive Usher, too: “Truth Hurts” finds Usher suspicious of his girl but then ends with a “surprise” twist (“A guilty conscience is the real reason I wrote this song”) while “Superstar” boasts a cute metaphor that’s perhaps a little too obvious (“I’m your number one fan/Give me your autograph/Sign it right here on my heart”). The edgy, guitar-driven “Bad Girl” is one of the only tracks that lives up to the album’s strapping lead single “Yeah!,” which has elevated the singer to a whole new level of crunk. Another possible contender is “Take Your Hand,” an unmistakably Rich Harrison-helmed track that sounds like a slinkier, stripped-down cousin to Beyoncé‘s “Crazy In Love”—same style, same sample pattern, but this time it’s “Is There A Place For Me?” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (Andre Harris and Vidal Davis achieve the same vintage splendor without the use of samples on the super-tight “Caught Up” and “Follow Me”). Elsewhere, Usher’s main men Jam & Lewis’ sound is becoming less and less distinctive over time—their tracks blend in with the rest of Confessions, which is good for the album’s consistency, but not much else.
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